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Wombat Mange

[11.43 a.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, today I speak about our wonderful Tasmanian wombats and the plight they face with the infectious wombat mange. Having taken this matter over from the previous member for Rosevears, I will be able to pass it to the new member for Rosevears.

On that note, I welcome our new members, Jo Palmer, member for Rosevears, and Bastian Seidel, member for Huon. It is very good to have you in the Chamber. I am sure you will enjoy your time here.

The common wombat, found in all regions of Tasmania, has a distinguished honour of being the largest burrowing herbivorous mammal and is a uniquely Australian symbol. Their little faces are extremely recognisable with their characteristic buck teeth, small ears and short whiskers. Our Tasmanian common wombats can be around 85 centimetres long and 20 kilograms in weight and, with their short legs and large powerful paws, are masters at burrowing their way underground. Like all marsupials, wombats carry their babies in a pouch until they are large enough to venture out into the world.

Wombats are further distributed in other areas outside Tasmania, including southern Queensland, eastern New South Wales and eastern Victoria, with remnant populations in areas of South Australia. As a result, we have to make sure we care for and protect these uniquely Australian icons.

Our wombats need our help. Wombat mange, caused by a parasitic mite, is a condition that causes thick, crusty skin and hair loss, and appears to be accompanied by significant irritation, pain and loss of orientation. The mite burrows into the skin of the wombat to live and reproduce; it causes uncontrollable itching, which leads to secondary infections and wounds ‑ and eventually a slow death from organ failure. It has substantial health and welfare impacts for individual wombats, and in turn our wider wombat populations.

It is believed that the sarcoptic mange parasite was introduced to our native species by early settlers and the animals they brought with them. If you are so inclined, I recommend doing an internet search to see just how severely affected and disfigured wombats' bodies, eyes, ears and feet become when they are overcome with a case of mange.

Being highly infectious, we have already seen just how devastating this disease can be, with some 94 per cent of the wombats living in the Narawntapu National Park in the state's north being decimated by the condition.

I understand the Tasmanian Government has committed a number of resources towards mange treatments, including $30 000-plus in current support to the University of Tasmania, and $100 000 provided in 2017. Spotlight surveys, annual strategic targeted surveys and various camera-monitoring activities are undertaken by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment to gather data. Right now, the University of Tasmania's School of Biological Sciences and a vanguard of dedicated volunteers seem to be all that stands between our wombat population and disfigurement and death from sarcoptic mange. Recently, trials using a product known as Bravecto, s commonly used to treat parasitic infections in domestic animals, has been used to treat wombats, and I believe preliminary field trials are afoot.

We have an opportunity to prevent sarcoptic mange from driving our wombats into steep decline, and the positive results we are seeing from Bravecto trials are extremely encouraging. To this end, I sincerely congratulate the hard work of those at the university's School of Biological Sciences, and reserve my special thanks and gratitude to the volunteers who work at the coalface with our precious animals. Often we do not see the mental and emotional toll that caring for sick animals takes on our volunteers, especially when a wombat's condition is so severe that it needs to be euthanised. I think I can confidently speak on behalf of all members here that we are extremely grateful for the hard, often unpleasant, but extremely vital work that they do.

It is going to take sustained effort and a collective willingness to take responsibility to act if we are to manage this disease and protect our wombats. This is an issue that will not solve itself, or go away quietly on its own. We have already experienced the existential and moral panic associated with saving unique and precious Tasmanian species with the Tasmanian devil facial tumour, which made news all around the world. It is not even 100 years since the thylacine became extinct.

Our action in protecting and treating our wombats reflects on our image to the world, and says something about our collective character and willingness to intervene in an ecological calamity that, at this stage, is almost certain.

We owe it to our little furry friends, and each other, to ensure that we futureproof our precious Tasmanian flora and fauna.

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